Surprise Valley Community Church
405 Bonner Street
The roots of Surprise Valley's historic Community Church can be traced back as early as the fall of 1866 when Brother E.H. Orne, a
"licensed Exhorter" arrived and started a Sunday School and held weekly prayer meetings. Participants met in homes until a school house was built.
In the summer of 1867, the circuit was represented
at the Nevada Conference Meeting of the Methodist Episcopal
Church. By 1877, a parsonage was built at a cost of $400.
According to an article in the Reno Gazette,
dated March 18, 1880, interest in building a church in Cedarville
was growing. Later in November, the paper reported many buildings
were being constructed in the town, including an Odd Fellows
Hall and a Methodist Episcopal Church.
In January 1881, the paper contained a detailed
description of the new church:
"The new church at Cedarville is 52 by 25 feet, with an audience room of 40 by 24 feet. In front is the prayer room, opening into the main room by sliding windows. There's a side tower for the vestibule and a bell.
"A good bell of 500 pounds weight, hangs in the belfry. The windows of the church are to be covered with paper to give them the appearance of stained glass. The ceiling is blue.
"The building cost about $3000. It was opened for the first time for divine services on Sunday, January 9 (1881)
"Churches are very scarce up North with the nearest church to Cedarville being at Susanville, 120 miles away. The Cedarville Church is handsome, both inside and out."
The Community Church was the first church
building in Modoc County. It has hosted a very long list
of pastors, many of whom stayed less than a year. The first
was the Reverend W.J. White who came in January 1872. The
Rev. John Pendleton, who married Emma Bonner) was pastor
when the building was dedicated.
Virgil Vineyard was the last minister to serve
under the church's original denomination before it became a Congregational Church in November 1939. Although the name changed, members say its congregation remained the same,
"witnessing for Christ in the community without a break since 1866."
With postwar prosperity, members began making
many changes to the property, including removing fences and
many aging poplar trees, adding concrete sidewalks, and planting
a lawn and evergreen trees and shrubs.
While plans to lower the ceiling in the sanctuary
had been discussed for years, it took a cold morning in 1953
to move things along. Rev. Ralph Conard arrived early to
build a fire in the stove, hoping to diminish the fall chill
before his parishioners arrived for the Sunday service. The
subsequent fire canceled those plans and services were held
in the Community Hall until February 14, 1954 when the sanctuary
(complete with a new, lower ceiling) was rededicated.
Fire threatened the building at other times
as well. An untended candle scorched paneling in the late
1950s, and one Sunday, members Gail Hicks and Coe Leavengood
were seen quietly but hurriedly leaving the sanctuary during
a service. They returned later, "disheveled in appearance but smiling broadly." Later, they related how smoke had
"drifted down past the windows" near their seats. They went to investigate and found a fire in the church's flue. That episode spelled the end of using wood burning stoves in the church. A new furnace was installed to heat both the sanctuary and hall in 1959.
In 1980, the most recent fire resulted in
a new entryway being added onto the Community Hall entrance
on Center Street.
Members look back on one particularly memorable
chapter in the church's history. One minister, backed by a prominent local businessman, spearheaded an anti-saloon campaign, hoping to see all of Modoc County become
"dry". When the votes were counted and the prohibitionists had prevailed, the two men were not very popular with some local residents. They received threats that the church would be burned in retaliation. So, for a while, the minister barricaded himself inside the church building, protecting it with his constant presence
The church's Community Hall, built on in 1921, also has a long and colorful history. At various times it has served as the high school's basketball court, a movie theater for high school students in the 1920s, and was the town�s public library for awhile. Over the years it has hosted Grange, Rotary and 4-H meetings, local Boy Scout troops, and many other community organizations.
In 1947, the tower chimes were donated in
memory of the young men of Surprise Valley who lost their
lives in WWII. The sanctuary's altar was made by C.E. "Kelly" Borden (under the direction of Frank Wheeler) in 1947, and a matching pulpit was given in memory of Phoebe Fitzgerald Robinson in 1950. The hanging cross was donated in 1968 by the family of Alice Hill. The lovely stained glass window in the vestibule was given in memory of James and Martha Wylie by their family.
Other memorial gifts have included hymn books,
collection plates, new carpeting, and the illuminated sign
that hangs near the outdoor entryway.
During the Centennial Service on January 25,
1981, a handcrafted communion chalice and a bread tray made
by David Mackey of Alturas were presented on behalf of the
Federated Church of Alturas. Lige Langston sang a solo, and
photos, albums and other memorabilia and memories spanning
the past century were shared at a community potluck following
That service was presided over by the Rev.
Jim Russ. The current minister is the Rev. Dr. Ben Zandstra,
who assumed duties at the church in 1986.
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06 Oct 2021 12:33:30 -0700